Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Extravagant Hats on French Ladies, 1788

Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Susan reporting,

As much as I enjoy the immense variety of historical images that now can be discovered thanks to the internet, staring at a jpg on my laptop screen will never replace being able to see the real thing. 

Sometimes, that experience is a revelation. One of the paintings featured in the new Visitors to Versailles: 1682-1789 exhibition (currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) is this one: Promenade of the Ambassadors of Tipu Sultan in the Park of Saint-Cloud. The entire painting is shown below (and as always, please click on the images to enlarge them.)

It's a justly famous painting, for it shows how truly international the 18thc world could be: the delegation of Tipu Sultan had come halfway around the world to seek French assistance in removing the British from Mysore, and to negotiate more favorable direct trading with France. Crowds of French people have come to welcome (and likely to gawk at) the ambassadors as they walk in the Park at Saint-Cloud.

When this painting is used to illustrate the international politics of the late 18thc, it's usually a small reproduction that emphasizes the crowds, the lawns, and the nodding greenery. But when I saw it in person, all I could see was the HATS.

The late 1780s were a time of oversized and extravagant hats and caps, with curving brims, plumes, buckles, ribbons, silk flowers, and silk gauze ruffles. The variety of fashionable examples - like wedding cakes for the head! - captured in this painting are truly stunning. It's all in miniature, too; the entire painting measures about 38" wide, so most of these figures are at most a couple of inches tall.

There are also some delightful small dramatic scenes: the little boy either having a tantrum or a fainting fit while his nursemaid scowls up at his negligent mother, upper left; footmen in elaborate royal livery try to contain the crowds around the ambassadors, upper right; and two women have decided it's all too much and have retreated beneath their wide parasol to a park bench, where a black-clad gentleman in a wonderful wig (perhaps a clergyman?) has joined them, lower left.

But my favorite detail, lower right, shows a man selling prints and sheet music. He's wearing jaunty striped trousers and a long-tailed coat as he stands before his wares, which are pinned on rows of strings to display. He's playing a horn for his dog, who is dancing on its hind-legs with a stick in its front paws - what better way to attract customers?

Promenade of the Ambassadors of Tipu Sultan in the Park of Saint-Cloud by Charles-Eloi Asselin, 1788, Cité de la Céramique-Sèvres et Limoges. 


Fashion Witness said...

Thank you for sharing this.... You've made a great start, but really, a
whole book could be written about this scene. Or maybe, a novel?

DanielleThorne said...

I love the fun detail of the striped-trousers and sheet music for sale. What a great piece of art!

Lucy said...

I'm terribly curious: note the far right of the picture. Why are there ladies apparently draped over a hedge, with their backs to all the fuss? (!) Does anyone have a theory?

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Lucy, I'm afraid I haven't a clue! I spent so much time standing in front of this painting, but now that I'm home, I realize there was even more to see, and decipher. Hmm...another return trip!

Lucy said...

The more I stare at it, it almost looks as if they are helping/pulling a child up and over, perhaps to lift her up for a look at the visitors. The children on the other side of the hedge appear very eager to reach them. That might explain the odd disorder at the lower left of the painting as well: someone made too quick a dash, trying to get a glimpse. If the artist painted this from memory, it must have been quite a scene!

Thanks for posting a fascinating image.

Lucy said...

Oh, and here's another theory. *grin* The child isn't swooning or having a fit, but got shoved by a Royal guard or footman. I think, a guard, as he's not wearing the same livery. That would explain the dirty looks.

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